Hangar 1 Smoke Point Vodka, $50
The back story
Everyone knows the old saying about turning lemons into lemonade. But what about turning smoke-tainted grapes into…vodka?
That’s the thought behind this latest release from Hangar 1, a California-based vodka and hard-seltzer brand, founded in 2002, that is now part of the Proximo Spirits company. Hangar 1’s ethos has always been about its native state — “its spirit, its fresh ingredients, its sunshine — and the people who live there,” according to Proximo marketing executive Lander Otegui. Hangar has also been known to experiment with flavorings and different approaches. Consider one of its previous limited-edition offerings — a vodka made from San Francisco fog (we kid you not).
In the case of Smoke Point, the idea came about after California’s Glass Fire in 2020, which had a devastating effect on some of the state’s wine producers. Hangar 1’s team reached out to Crimson Wine Group, a Napa Valley producer, and learned that some of its grapes — specifically, the Malbec and Merlot ones — were tainted by the smoke and no longer usable for wine. In Otegui’s words, the fruit “would need to find a new home.”
So Hangar 1 went about seeing if it could create a vodka from the grapes — and to the team’s surprise, the result was “surprisingly not smoky,” according to Otegui. The brand is selling the vodka at its distillery in Alameda, Calif., and in liquor stores throughout California, but the bottle is also available through the Reservebar.com website. Proceeds from all sales will benefit the California Fire Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides emotional and financial assistance to families of fallen firefighters.
Even as whiskey increasingly becomes the drink of choice for many Americans, vodka remains the country’s most popular spirit, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Vodka sales increased by 3.7% in 2020 to 76.9 million 9-liter cases.
What we think about it
Indeed, you’ll find nothing smoky about this vodka. Instead, it has floral and sweet notes that speak to its wine-related origins. Otegui describes it as having a “juicy, round bold palate” with just a light peppery finish.